Makefast

Above: A soldier of British Army 24 Commando Engineer Regiment pictured using a Makefast engineering tool--part of the Bowman Suite of Battlefield Information System Applications. Credit: Ministry of Defence.

Apple watch

Above: Person wearing an Apple Watch. Credit: Rawpixel.

Teenager using smartphone

Above: A teenager using a smartphone. Credit: Nastya Gepp.

Present Moment

We, in the developed West at least, increasingly live under a tyranny of immediacy; a scene of communications governed by "the absence of delay (VW: 56)." Under the dominance of real-time it is the present moment, and only the present moment, which has any significance, the media no longer presents us with narratives but rather dissociated, disconnected flashing images (VW: 57). The digital-device-user lives in a "swollen" present moment; events that once occurred in historical time (or local time) are inaccessible since they exist in a different register, "the implementation of a time that has no relationship to historical time (VW: 13)." This is not some melodramatic End of History--Virilio was irked by Francis Fukuyama's infamous book title--but rather a loss of history, "the loss of history means that the immediacy of the present prevails over the past and the future (VW: 57)."

The rise to ubiquity of real-time--the dominance of the present moment--is hazardous precisely because of its brevity; digital instructions are executed in milliseconds (thousandths of a second), microseconds (millionths of a second), and nanoseconds (billionths of a second). In this way, "time is disappearing into its acceleration (GA: 84)." Or, equally, "history, our history, has just crashed into the barrier of real-time (VW: 51)."

Through many historical epochs, incremental improvements in speed-of-transmission-of-communications have been innovated up to the present in which digital communications are instant-and-immediate. There is no possibility to improve on the current speeds of transmission-of-information--if there are any they will be measured only in nanoseconds. So a definite limit has been reached: human civilization in its current form may continue for many millennia but increases in speed-of-communication will remain stable. The end-limits of innovation have actually been reached, as Virilio says, "from now on we will not accelerate anymore. From now on history will have reached its speed limit (VW: 51)."

The digital-device-user (litererally an addict) has no chance to gain a foothold in any given moment before the next instant emerges. And this is how the technology inculcates inertia and powerlessness. When the frame-of-reference is a nanosecond all attempts at critical judgment are confounded (GA: 72). Such brevity is remote and opposed to ordinary human perception and as such is a mechanism for increasing alienation (the human from his social context).

The real-time instant of the device produces--quite insidiously at first--inertness and immobility; an effect which is "the real instant's devastating inertia (GA: 41)." The beleaguered digital-device-user attempts, of course, to gain an orientation in the present moment but is repeatedly thwarted--eventually there is a recognition of the futility of the original ambition which triggers a loss of motivation and an increase in dissociation. Critical-processing-and-reflection is replaced by the reflex--the knee-jerk reaction (UD: 88/ADF: 31). The digital-device-user begins to operate in a hedonism of the moment, "to live every instant as though it were the last--that is the paradox of futurism, a futurism of the instant that has no future (GA: 1)."